ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, the American writer, lecturer, and feminist social reformer, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) began publishing a monthly journal called, The Forerunner. Written entirely by herself, she wrote on a range of topics that revolved around a central theme–social and human development was hampered by sexism and only when women were perceived and treated as human beings would we make progress as a species.

CPGilman

I first became aware of Charlotte Perkins Gilman while browsing the Minneapolis Public Library as a student in the 1970’s. I happened upon a reference to Gilman’s utopian novel, Herland, which depicts an all-female world where men are unnecessary, even for reproduction. I was startled to uncover a writer with such radical ideas. I read several of her other works with great interest. Reading about the life of this courageous reformer propelled my interest in American history and broadened my understanding of women’s struggle.

Gilman was a prolific writer and a single mother who tried many strategies throughout her life to earn her own living when options were limited. She wrote on many topics illuminating how women’s practical, economic and social conditions might change for the better. She traveled frequently as an invited lecturer speaking to audiences at women’s clubs, town halls, and churches.

Gilman offered perspectives on major issues of gender with which we still grapple; the origins of women’s subjugation, the struggle to achieve both autonomy and intimacy in human relationships; and new strategies for rearing and educating future generations by creating a humane and nurturing environment.

The more she developed her ideas the less she was able to sell her stories to publishers. She was advised by author and editor Theodore Dreiser “to consider more what the editors want”  at which point, Gilman resolved she must publish her own writings.

The Forerunner, written, edited and published by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was in print from 1909 to 1916 and featured short fiction, serialized novels, essays, articles, book reviews, poems and a personal advice column. Indeed, some of the published works of this prolific author; both fiction and non-fiction were originally serialized in The Forerunner. She reveals the mission for her journal with the poem “Then This” which appeared in the premier issue  in November 1909.

Then This

The news-stands bloom with magazines,
–They flame, they blaze indeed;
So bright the cover-colors glow,
So clear the startling stories show,
So vivid their pictorial scenes,
–That he who runs may read.

Then This: It strives in prose and verse,
–Thought, fancy, fact and fun,
To tell the things we ought to know,
To point the way we ought to go,
So audibly to bless and curse,
–That he who reads may run.

She cared about the precarious conditions for women and children and often drew attention to the connection between human society and nature. A list titled, “Reasonable Resolutions”  was published in January 1910. Here, Gilman wrote:

Let us collectively resolve:
That we will stop wasting our soil and our forests and our labor!
That we will stop poisoning and clogging our rivers and harbors.
That we will stop building combustible houses
That we will now–this year–begin in good earnest to prevent all preventable diseases.
That we will do our duty by our children and young people, as a wise Society should, and cut off the crop of criminals by not making them.

The Forerunner sold for ten cents and one dollar for a year’s subscription. At its peak the magazine had nearly 1,500 subscribers from the United States and from Europe, India, and Australia. After seven years, the cost to continue publishing became prohibitive for Gilman, and the magazine was discontinued at the end of 1916.

The Forerunner

The Forerunner

Recently, I obtained the full text download of volume one of The Forerunner from Project Gutenberg, one of many public access collections of eBooks available today online as part of the World Public Library. Again, I am enthralled by literary discovery.

Feminist researchers in the 1970’s rescued the works of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and republished many of her most important contributions. Today’s scholars have more access to original published works, but the challenge continues to protect our print and digital collections and preserve the full breadth of our cultural heritage.

It takes the sustained efforts of many dedicated librarians, archivists, historians and publishers to preserve the past and future works in our digital collections. In this movement to digitize and preserve the fragile and rare, as well as the well-documented and commercial works we hedge our bets against the calamities such as fire and neglect that have plagued librarians for centuries.

I have learned a great deal from history and specifically from Gilman’s determination to publish her ideas and seek long term support for the societal changes she thought necessary for women’s economic freedom.

I am grateful to the efforts of many who consider the critical strategies necessary to preserve historical documents. Forward thinking organizations including the Library of Congress, and the Internet Archive, work to address the tremendous challenges of building a digital library with public access to the world’s knowledge.

Yet, I am troubled when considering the question of how fragile human culture is. What will survive in our digital age of hyper-publishing on devises destined to be obsolete? Will the essential voices of today rise above the clutter of the ephemeral cloud? Will we inspire social reformers in another hundred years with tales of brave actions and perspectives that offer new hope?

Citations:
Golden, Catherine, Joanna S. Zangrando, “The Mixed Legacy of Charlotte Perkins Gilman”
Knight, Denise. “The Forerunner”. The Literary Encyclopedia. 8 January 2001.
Lane, Ann, “To Herland and Beyond”

word cloud created at wordie.com

My word cloud created at http://www.wordle.net

Yesterday Stephanie Condon posted her thoughts on the political blog, CBS News Political Hotsheet comparing the words in President Obama’s speech on national security which focused on the closing of the Guantanamo prison with those of Dick Cheney’s speech on the same day. In a picture there are a thousand words. That is literally true in the word clouds created from each speech.

It is not difficult to tell I am fond of word clouds. (see previous post) So I went to http://www.wordle.net and had a go at it myself. I have been writing a business plan recently and after going on and on for 15 pages, I wonder if my word cloud may not say it better?

THERE IS A MOMENT when you suddenly realize there is no turning back, when you realize conditions on the planet are such that to forestall dire environmental consequences, you and everyone you know, must make significant and immediate changes in how you live.

I call that singular flash of consciousness the Polar Bear Moment. For many, that first glance of the polar bear floating on ice, had an emotional impact that seemed at once to foretell the fate of the whole species and then command we take action. Consequences for us humans will follow as the once powerful bear stares out, helpless in the face of the human factors we know are responsible for their disappearing habitat, now only tiny islands floating towards extinction.

The Polar Bear Moment may have struck when seeing this iconic image or hearing an astounding fact or some other environmental calamity shaking you to your core with the sheer magnitude of the global predicament.

What was your Polar Bear Moment?

For me, that flash of consciousness came when I read about the largest garbage dump on the planet, which happens not to be on land, but in the Pacific Ocean. Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation has documented a floating island of discarded plastic waste that has been accumulating for over 50 years in the currents of the central Pacific gyre. This estimated 3.5 million tons of toxic flotsam that oceanographers refer to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not a patch after all, but the size of a continent. There are no obvious or easy solutions to this environmental dilemma that is poisoning the food chain and strangling ocean life.

What is heartbreaking in the moments that follow the shock is our own responsibility. The unbridled human activity on our over-populated planet along with our propensity for distraction and our disconnection with nature has hastened the end for the polar bear, and by extension, perhaps our own.

What I hope can be sustained from this flash of consciousness is the determination to change how we live, identify what we deem important to conserve, and to strongly commit to combine our efforts with others to save our threatened habitat.

What was your Polar Bear Moment? How has it motivated you to change?

The Chalice and the BladeI drove to across town to the far side of San Francisco recently for the opportunity to speak with one of the most exciting activists writing today.

In a crowded bookstore tucked away in Building C at Fort Mason I met Dr. Riane Eisler, a scholar, author, activist and founder of the Center for Partnership Studies (CPS). On this evening, I joined several dozen other people interested in CPS, who had gathered to learn more about partnership and other objectives of this visionary organization.

Riane Eisler is the author of the international bestseller, The Chalice and The Blade. In this ground-breaking book she describes a way of life based on equality, nonviolence, and harmony with nature. The Partnership Way is explored in each of her books with revolutionary ideas making their way into art, politics, business, personal relationships, education and public policy. Most recently in, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics she charts a new course for economics and social policy that seeks to correct the flawed systems that misallocate our human and natural resources.

For two decades Dr Eisler’s research has explored the most fundamental questions about human society and our true nature as caring human beings. Why are we so violent? Has it always been this way? What perpetuates the pain and violence we see even in our most intimate relations? How can this be stopped? How can we avoid the mass extinction that is made ever more possible and perhaps inevitable with today’s advanced technology?

She admits her quest for cultural transformation is deeply rooted in her experience as a small child. Riane Eisler fled Europe with her family in 1938 on Crystal Night, the date terrorism exploded across Germany ushering in a madness that gripped the world. Nearly losing her life to Nazi violence has driven her to a passionate search for the answers that her caring heart knew existed. She had to discover the antidote to the holocaust.

Find out how you can join the partnership movement and create a new future on this planet that celebrates pleasure instead of pain, equality and creativity instead of domination and oppression. Help ensure the stories our children tell their children will be different. Read. Act. Donate.

Don’t you want to be one? I do. What if someone like me with no political party involvement (in recent decades at least) could be invited to be a super delegate? I really want to be invited to a party, any party with adults, actually, will do. It doesn’t have to be a political party. I want to attend a party where I can have my way. Or have my say. Perhaps that is the same thing. A party with other super delegates. That is the best part. A big orgy of super people. Saying and doing and voting. It’d be just super. Whirling around Denver on a mountain high of some sort. Healing the Democratic party. Having our way, paving the way to November. Dancing and singing, knowing we are going to make a better (super) future for America.

How crazy is that? No more dancing in the streets, unless you are talking about rioting in the streets. This Hillary-Obama story is sometimes just too sad for me. The tragedy of a contest of “others” both worthy, both necessary, both some how flawed in great and small ways but one is destined to carry the day.

When I am a super delegate, I will stir these two up into a partnership model. Neither one without the other. A new legacy of Democratic leadership; one of inclusion. Of looking at our desire for the federal government to be recast in a new image. Expanding the democracy of the founding fathers beyond their dreams, where mothers and non-whites belong.

A cripled citizenry needs attention. We must reduce the numbers who are hungry in order to gain their attention. Educate and feed a nation to ensure a democracy

There is so much to do. We all have to be super people to even hope at making a dent. We best get cracking. Obama, Hillary, speak to the citizens, the women, the mothers, the ones who care for a living, say how you will listen, say how you will hear and raise the priorities of the nurturers. End the war, and govern by leadership or govern by crisis, either way we have to preserve the planet.